Appams with Avial


Kerala, God’s Own Country, has food fit for them immortals. The land of spices and coconuts uses both these in ways so different. The Kerala food that I have sampled has always been subtly spiced with undertones of sweetness from fresh coconut; a light hand with the red chilli pepper and a preference for the famous Malabar peppercorns.

As promised, I bring to you a family favourite- Avial with Appams. While I got an early start on food from Tamil Nadu and Andhra, Kerala cuisine was a later discovery.

My good friend Prati, a true Delhiite (meaning belonging to Delhi – it bugs her when people ask – “no, but where are you really from?” It is true, people lived here before the rest of us moved in :-)! The oldest city, Old Delhi – where the present Mehrauli is, dates back to late 12C. Mughal Shahajahanabad, the other ‘Old Delhi’ came much later in mid-17C. Delhi accomodates withing it 8 capitals of various rulers including modern democratic New Delhi), served this non-yellow curry at a dinner many many years ago. One spoonful and my eyes widened at the unbelievable taste of this innocuous looking dish. This was the Avial, my friends. If you have a spoonful, you cannot but ask for the recipe.

And I am not going to give you one. You don’t need one. There is nothing simpler, really. Take a bunch of vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, peas, beans, and green bananas (I always use potatoes, green bananas, and jimikand – Indian yam, with either peas or beans). Chop them into equal sized pieces (1cm) and cook/steam (I pressure cooked my tubers and the banana, and zapped the beans in the microwave). Grate half a coconut and grind to a paste with some cumin and green chillies. You are supposed to use only coconut milk but I hate to throw away the squeezed out coconut. Mix this paste into a cup or more of beaten curd/yoghurt (this should not be sour) and add to the cooked vegetables. Add some water so that there is sufficient ‘curry’. Simmer till heated through. Do the usual tadka of mustard seeds, whole red chillies and kadi patta in a teaspoon or two of oil and add to the simmering avial. Don’t forget the salt.
avial There, it’s done. Serve it with steamed rice or appams. Keep the breads away this time.

About the appam now. The first time I had this fluffy hopper was at Ashok Yatri Niwas’ Coconut Grove. We were celebrating a birthday with my aforementioned friend. Our kids were toddlers and they were with us. So we sampled Malabari cuisine for the first time – it was a long time ago but I remember there was a fish curry among other things. And Avial (who can forget that, now!) and the wondrous appams, with crispy crepe-like edges and a soft spongy centre, perfect to soak up the delicately flavoured avial and ishtew.

But now there is the Shangri La Hotel where Ashok Yatri Niwas used to be, and consequently, there is no Coconut Grove either. So what am I to do every time I feel like tasting the food of the Gods…?

Cook it yourself, woman! Yes, but you cannot make appams till you have a recipe or a Mallu friend who can come to the rescue. I, unfortunately, don’t have a Mallu friend. But I did have a recipe in Madhur Jaffery’s A Taste of India. It was a recipe adapted so that appams could be conjured up in lands far far away from the Malabar coast. So it used eggs and yeast to replace the traditional toddy. But half the family (particularly MIL) would not eat eggs. The appam batter is made from rice and needs an additive for the fermentation unlike the dosa/idli batter where the urad dal aids proper fermentation.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And I was getting there. So we made our first attempt omitting the eggs and using our small karahi so that we would have the up-turned shape to the appams. Not bad at all. And I continue to use the recipe leaving the eggs out. I have since also acquired the proper equipment – the cast iron appam pan with lid – on my last visit to Coimabatore a few years ago.

Appam (Rice Hoppers)

3 C sela (par-boiled) rice

1/2 C grated fresh coconut

2 t yeast

1 T sugar

salt to taste

oil to season the pan, and some more while cooking appams

Soak the rice overnight in water. Grind to a paste, adding the grated coconut into the last batch. Add sugar and yeast granules to warm water. Leave for 10 minutes, till frothy. Mix into the rice batter and leave for 4-6 hrs.

appam panappam batterappamappam pouredTo make appams, mix salt into the batter. The batter should be of a pouring consistency but not watery. Smear some oil on your appam pan or karahi or any cast iron pan and heat it. Pour about 1/4 C batter into the pan and swirl the pan around to ‘spread’ the batter. Some of the batter should pool into the centre. Sprinkle a few drops of oil and cover the pan for 2-3 minutes. Cook uncovered for another couple of minutes or so. The appam should start to separate from the pan (usually). Use a spatula to loosen the sides if required and remove. The appams will not brown like dosas because there is no dal in the batter. Serve with avial or ishtew.appam with avialGo ahead, don’t be intimidated. Remember, it’s ambrosia! You gotta live a little.

25 thoughts on “Appams with Avial

  1. Your appams look great ! First pic is too good. Have never made this at home.

    Thanks, Krithika.  Do try them, they just seem intimidating.  I find they are easier to prepare than dosas where some spreading skill is called for.  And don’t forget to make a coconut based curry with it!  And do let me know if it was as easy as I made it sound!

  2. You hit some chord there…I love avial, though we Tams prefer to have it with rice…I must say i’ll try the aapam sometime, the appam to me is an idli in the center and a dosa on the sides…cute li’l thing.
    The avial recipe was very authentic, though at home, everyone makes it with just yogurt-no coconut milk, and a bit of coconut oil drizzled on the top. Coconut milk must be in the original Kerala version whereas this one must be a Tamilnadu version-probably.
    Lovely post!

    I am happy that I have been making an authentic recipe. I think it is so perfect that it needs no modification. And flexible enough, with just a few ingredients, that you can make it whenever. I see yams in the market, and then I have to make it!  Try the Kerala version next time; you’ll find it equally yummy.
    I myself think that the appam is an idli in a dosa!

  3. Where did you get the appam pan?

    Is it sold in USA?

    Jaya,the appam pan may not be readily available in the US.  I got mine from Coimbatore a few yesrs ago.  But you can use a small karahi, as I did for years, or even a flat cast iron pan – though the shape would be different.  The ‘idli’ part will be flatter!  But try this till you can get your appam pan (maybe a friend visiting Southern India can get it for you?)

  4. Wow, Anita, you got your appams right! I have never paired appams with avaial before evn though i make both often. I have heard othat this combination runs in families than in resturants. I almost always had avial with rice or as such. I am sure avial and appam will go together, as avail is very mild. Thank you, i will try this combination soon.

    That (the combo) must have stayed with me from my last life :-)…if you read my previous post, you know what I am talking about! I have always paired them together. It’stime I tried an ishtew. Anyone out there who wants to post on an authentic one?

  5. hi anita,
    chanced upon your blog from mahanandi. wonderful that you discovered the appam – aviyal combo ! try aviyal with plain bread, if you like appam – aviyal, you can’t dislike the bread- aviyal pairing.
    but, true aviyal will never have any seasoning. it is a big no-no. just drizzle some coconut oil and sprinkle some sprigs of curry leaves. that is the only seasoning for aviyal. no mustard please !
    keep discovering more kerala dishes !

    Renu- first a welcome to A Mad Tea Party.  Thanks for the ‘authentication’ tip.  I will stock up on coconut oil.  And I think I can see your point regarding mustard.  The avial gets its true flavouring from the cumin.  So no tadka?  Just adding curry leaves to the avial?

    I can imagine the similarity in the appam and the bread- both full of holes- to soak up the great coconut gravy…but I may just go that extra bit to make appams since it is one of those special weekend preparations! 

  6. nope, mustard seeds and red chillies are a big no-no when it comes to avial. just cumin, turmeric powder and i sometimes like to add a touch of garlic. that’s it. a dash od coconut oit on top, fresh curry leaves and close the vessel. turn of heat. open it after a while and……ah, the aroma, pure heaven…
    i have a much easier recipe to make lovely lacy appams. i guess i’ll put it up on my blog.


    Hi Alakananda: That’s what happens when you recreate with 10 year old memories… 🙂

  7. Would adding coconut milk not make it stew? Avial is always with ground coconut where I had my dinners 🙂 and I make it quite the same way even now 🙂

    I started driving on my own today… so when S is out the next time I shall definitely drop by!

  8. Wow, thanks – I would die for an appam with coconut chutney now.Yours look phantasic – mine never did work out.Hey, do you know that there is a similar dish from Ethiopia called “injera”? The differences are: they use a different pan (flat type) so its kind of spongy through out the injerea – its fermented in a similiar way – maybe a tiny bit more sour than appam because they don’t use yeast powder, but left over batter from the last mix.Its served with lots off different dishes and lentils called “wat” which are made with spiced ghee and berbere spice…etc. Its got a unique taste, kind of Asian like, google for it if you want to try something totally new.Though they use a special kind of grain “tef” which is not availiable in India, that can be substituted with ground maize (not corn starch)…..

    1. They turn out fairly good…but not like what I have eaten down South!
      I have been told about injera – but never eaten. Will try making it one of these days – the weather is just right for wild yeast stuff!

  9. nice to know that non mallus can make this …. hey, if u run out of fresh coconut, just add a pack of dabur’ coconut milk…. works the same

  10. I miss Prati.. never thought one of us would already be talked about in the past. I remember the silly little school band and all of us singing Obladi Oblada. Was it yesterday?

    Ani- Do you have any good raw food recipe?

  11. Came here via your May post on your friend…..and had to say, dont feel bad about leavbing out the coconut – you don’t have to since savial doesnt need coconut milk – just coconut spices and yoghurt. Its the ishtew which requires the coconut milk – Only. And yes, I do have a good recipe for ishtoo on my blog – its the simplest and accompanies appams in our house.

    Yeah, I finally did figured out my avial was more like ishtew!

  12. Read this post via, the May one.
    Avial is very simple and made differently: coarsely ground [ crushed, rather] coconut, slit green chilies, sour buttermilk, turmeric with torn curry leaves and drizzles of coconut oil and, importantly no tempering. However, all variations work! 🙂

    🙂 Thanks for the input, Shri. I have to try it with coconut oil; keep forgetting!

  13. We make avial exactly like this… no coconut milk, only ground coconut 🙂

    And tadka has no mustard and chillies… just curry leaves fried in coconut oil 🙂

    Oh, good. I was contemplating adding an post-script saying, “some may call this ishtew!”

  14. Do you remember where you bought the aapam pan in Coimbatore? I tried a couple of places last year but I didn’t find any. I want the iron one like yours. Thanks.

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